Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A spook ponders ...

A blinkered view of our enemies has caused us to make lots of miscalculations, most consequently it’s caused us to overlook some white citizens' dispossession — that steep loss of privilege and power of a group once on the top. Along with it we’ve missed what some Republicans and Neo-Nazi sympathizers eager to upend the country really are: symptoms of white male dispossession.

Both groups want to turn the clock back to a time when pure, orthodox Americanism was ascendant and expanding. They look at all outsiders as existential threats. These two groups lashing out with seemingly random violence may not be to most American's taste, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when it comes to dispossession, people on the margins often turn to violence when the group’s collective existence is at stake. Finally, in dismissing our enemies’ grievances, we miss that they may just have legitimate grievances.

... If the United States continues to dismiss our enemies’ fears, count on it that our miscalculation will continue to pile up, making things look more and more like a plague than a proper war. Forgetting that people governed by fear want to be governed by faith is a cardinal political error.

The author is Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Directorate of Operations from 1976 to 1997.

You may have guessed that the nouns in bold type are my replacements for Mr. Baer's original words. I'll post the original in the first comment below.

Military report on Afghanistan "not releasable"

While waiting for the big speech, it was easy to miss yesterday's news that Trump's Afghanistan war is going very sour (just as Obama's and George W.'s wars did).

Taliban suicide bombers have killed 130 people in the capital, Kabul, in the last week. The entity that passes for a "government" of the country controls less and less territory. Eleven U.S. troops were killed and 99 injured in this forgotten war in 2017; there have been plenty of airstrikes and plenty of civilian casualties -- but to what end?

Military leaders know that a civil war like this one can only end when the local parties reach some kind of negotiated agreement. But Trump says there can be no talks.

So what to do when a largely forgotten war is sinking into a quagmire (again)? You can stop telling the American people the truths that our own Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has uncovered. SIGAR reports are "unclassified," but the Pentagon has invented a new secret category: "not releasable to the public."

Now presumably the Taliban know what proportion of Afghanistan they control as do the people who live in those areas. Our military is not hiding information about the battlefield from the enemy -- it's hiding the quantification of its strategic failure from us.

Why do our leaders think we must continue this 17-year failure? There have been many rationales over the years, but I fear the current one is that Trump's advisors knew they could sell him on the war so long as he saw himself as the meanest ape around.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

We're hostage to a bomb maker

So the Orange Cheato is going give his first State of the Union address today. It's all too easy to assume that, all may not be well, but all is under control in Trumpland. A normal political cycle grinds on (if you don't include GOPer failure, despite their majorities, to pass any budget resolutions). How bad could things be?

This man's antics should remind that all is decidedly NOT well, that our hold on any normality is partial, a privilege of the (white) privileged, and precarious. I'll outsource commentary to Tom Toles:

When someone tries to reassure you that the institutions of American democracy are holding, they are telling you that the president of the United States is a recognized threat to them.

When someone says that the constitutional system hasn’t broken under Trump, what they are saying is “yet.”

When someone says that Trump tried but didn’t succeed in firing Robert S. Mueller III, they are acknowledging that the president was fully prepared to assert a dictatorial power, then decided the timing wasn’t right.

What we are watching is a president who doesn’t recognize any power but his own, and we’re trying to console ourselves with the fact that he picks his moments to break another pillar of representative government. But his intent is manifestly clear. ...

Read it all and resist.

Monday, January 29, 2018

We have feelings

Ever since I first saw this word cloud generated by the findings of a WSJ/NBC News poll I've been haunted by it. There's no reason to think this mistates the feelings of respondents; the methodology seems sound enough.

Two words stand out. "Disaster" and "Embarrassing." I understand the first, especially from people who had been doing alright during the Obama years, and most especially in the blue states which voted resoundingly for another round of Democratic party government. Take my state, California. We're solvent, making an effort to curb climate change insofar as a state can, and advancing toward a $15 minimum wage. Sure, we also have hideous economic inequality, struggling public schools, vast divides between races, and unaffordable housing prices. But until Trump came along, most of us (at least those of us who vote) could feel as if we were moving forward. Having the GOP trifecta in in power in Washington feels like being forced into perpetual defensive combat about matters we thought were settled.

It's that other big word in the cloud that I find disturbing: "Embarrassing." Embarrassment is a comparative emotion; a feeling of shame. Trump induces shame in a lot of us. I find myself wondering what we were so proud of. The salience of this emotion suggests it is important. Yet the kind of people who feel the embarrassment are some of the same people who hoped we were on the way to something better. Angry would seem a more appropriate emotion than shame -- but this is what many respond.

It's only fair to mention that Trump is not the only president who has evoked national embarrassment. Anyone remember George W.'s difficult encounter with a door?

I assume people feeling embarrassment are asking how could our system have allowed such a clusterfuck as the Orange Cheato's vicious kleptocracy? Well good. There's a lot wrong here that was obvious long before Trump came along to those with eyes to see. And current embarrassment might, with good leadership and a lot of luck, prompt action to get the country back on a positive trajectory, toward national and global struggle for multi-racial, economically egalitarian, gender non-constricting, woman affirming, and peace choosing democracy that preserves the habitability of earth for all (as I say in the sidebar of every page of this blog). We need nothing less.
For what it is worth, I would have answered either "racist" or "cruel" to the pollsters. How about you?
All this was reignited for me reading the wise Russian-American Masha Gessen taking the measure of Trump's expedition to hang with his fellow billionaires at Davos last week.

Our chronic embarrassment—or fear of embarrassment—when it comes to our President may be a new phenomenon, but our lack of imagination is not. The American political conversation has long been based on outdated economic and social ideas, and now it’s really showing.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Waiting for rebalance ...

This flu seems to offer a trap. Every time I try to push back into ordinary activity, my body temperature goes haywire and I feel weak and tired. Since pushing myself is, for me, the stuff of life, this is disconcerting.

I understand this will pass, but in the meantime, I'm sick of being sick!
When I posted the foregoing, how was I to know that I would encounter an article in the Times which perfectly catches why I find waiting out this illness so frustrating. The American author had surgery in Germany where medical practice assumes that knocking out a healthy post-operative patient with pain meds is unnecessary. She was mystified.

What exactly is resting?

I know how to sleep but resting is an in-between space I do not inhabit. It’s like an ambiguous place that can be reached only by walking into a magic closet and emerging on the other side to find a dense forest and a talking lion, a lion who can guide me toward the owl who supplies the forest with pain pills.

... I took two ibuprofens that first day. In hindsight, I didn’t need them, but I felt like I should take something. What I really needed was patience pills, and a few distractions. The hardest part of my recovery was lingering in bed, or on the sofa, feeling the discomfort and boredom as time ticked by slowly. I didn’t feel like reading or doing much of anything. ...

I get it.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jews lead rally for DREAM Act and Sanctuary for All

One year ago, President Trump issued his Muslim Ban.1, unleashing an eruption of rage and horror as citizems clogged airports for days and stiffened the spines of several federal judges who dared impede this racist, authoritarian order.

On Friday, under the apparent leadership of the Jewish justice organization Bend the Arc, protesters rallied outside the Northern California ICE Operations Center on Sansome Street to express solidarity with undocumented people in the crosshairs of the administration's planned raids.

Minimally, demonstrators want a DREAM Act regularizing the legal rights of young people who had protected status until Trump yanked it.

But in truth, these protesters advance a broadly shared vision of justice, not limited to immediate demands. This small action was cosponsored by Faith in Action Bay Area, Reform CA/Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley.
After one year of the Trump regime, if we're white, located in liberal cities, and comfortably economically situated, we can meander to through our lives without having it rubbed in our faces that the country has run off the rails. Many around us have seen their fears confirmed and hopes dashed by the right wing ascendancy this president represents. But we're not immigrants, or refugees, or "Black Identity Extremists" in the Justice Department's memorable words. We don't have to live in perpetual terror that the Migra might come for our loved ones.

Little events like this action at ICE remind us the status quo is NOT okay. And fortunately there is something we can do: the levers of democratic political action are within the reach of people like us; we can use them to throw the bums out and we must.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Gerrymanders and voter suppression

Gerrymandering has always interested me. Elbridge Gerry, the Founding Father whose creativity in drawing a Massachusetts state senate district inspired this 1812 cartoon, was some sort of ancestor. One of my great-grandfathers carried his name, though apparently was usually called "E.G."

And I've had some involvement with redistricting, in particular consulting for a civil rights coalition when boundaries were drawn for supervisor districts in San Francisco after the 2000 census. Our goal was to ensure, by providing suggested maps and advocating for them, that Black, Chinese and Latino constituencies would have as much voice as possible in city government. We got pretty much what we wanted from the city redistricting commission and those maps largely remain in place today. The software and data weren't up to the quality available now, but even then you could ask the guy on the computer something like "add two more blocks of Orizaba St. to District ll" and see right away what that did to the demographic profile of a district. With the increase in population and shifts in who lives where in this city -- mostly a lot less Black and Latino residents, and a lot more whites and people of various Asian ancestries often in dense areas -- I wouldn't be surprised to see boundaries redrawn quite a lot after 2020. Ensuring broad input into that process is one more reason we need to do all we can to elect a progressive mayor and supervisors in the coming election.

All this is introduction to the fact that I thought I knew a lot about redistricting and gerrymandering -- and I think I do. But The Gerrymandering Project at is a deep dive into the subject which anyone with the slightest interest should take the time to plumb.

Gerrymandering is not just some dirty trick that Republicans have used to control a unfair majority of offices in states whose political partisanship would suggest a pretty even split. Yes, courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania have found that this is indeed the case with those states' Republican-drawn House boundaries. Citizens are effectively losing the power of their votes because they are divided in ways which mean they never will be able to elect representatives they might choose. I have no trouble calling this voter suppression -- after all, some of these dopey Republicans have been dumb enough to admit they were trying to maintain a dominant position not justified by their partisan numbers.

But there is a lot more to the gerrymandering story. The folks at FiveThirtyEight look at the Wisconsin case currently before the Supremes (I'd bet the court somehow ducks it because who wants to adjudicate hundreds of gerrymandering appeals?), how the requirements of the Voting Rights Act that at least some districts be drawn so that people of color can be elected play out on the ground, and how different attempted remedies in Arizona and California have worked out. Somewhat to my surprise, California's redistricting commission, which was established by initiative, rescrambled the 2012 Congressional seats in this state and comes out looking fair and at least somewhat satisfying to voters, if not politicians.

Republican efforts to suppress voting -- to exclude some people (usually Black and Brown) from the franchise and simply discourage others from participating -- are real. As former GW Bush speechwriter David Frum has explained:

The Republican Party has a platform that can’t prevail in democratic competition. ... When highly committed parties strongly believe [in] things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don’t give up on their beliefs — they give up on democracy.

As the outlook for conservatives and Republicans becomes more bleak, they’re going to face a choice: Either they accommodate some of the changes that are happening to American society, like universal heath coverage, or else they’re going to have to face up to the fact that what they believe can’t be achieved if everybody votes.

So the next few years are going to be a long fight for voting rights and democracy.

But The Gerrymandering Project has convinced me that district boundaries are only a small part of what the fight will be about -- and that we won't be equipped for that fight without a better understanding of how redistricting happens in practice. Time to get up to speed ...

Friday cat blogging

Yet another feline, watching the world go by, regally.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Guggenheim offers Trump art for White House

Hey -- I tested that thing on a recent visit. The Italian artist calls it "America."

Hacks got to hack

Hack books about campaigns are a guilty pleasure of mine. I take as a given that their political operative authors are almost always trying to sell their own role (perfect in every way, naturally!) and belittle everyone else. That's particularly true in a losing cause and usually also true even if they won. It's a dog-eat-dog profession at whose edges I've played.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library, I've glanced at Donna Brazile's Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. It's a superb example of the genre: I'm prepared to believe that in her role as the black woman tasked to save the Democratic National Committee for Hillary Clinton, Brazile was surrounded by fools and scoundrels. Such are commonplace specimens in the higher echelons of campaigns. And Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, had been around enough blocks to know it. Whatever happened here almost certainly was not her fault. The book grinds her axes, but hey, that's the job of a retired consultant turned pundit.

Nonetheless I'm willing to mull over her observation that voters were offered in 2016 a

choice between a change candidate, whom a majority of Americans found odious and repugnant, and a Democratic nominee who had been on the national stage for more than 25 years. The vast majority of Americans disliked both candidates.

There's a worthwhile nugget in there: a candidate hoping to run a positive, solutions-oriented campaign particularly needs to project broad like-ability. If you are running on mobilizing resentment, like-ability doesn't matter much. But voters don't really attend to policies. If they like you, they may trust your policy prescriptions. But closing the deal runs through their comfort with your person, not through your brilliant ideas. I think Doug Jones' improbable victory in Alabama might be an example of this simple insight.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hard facts re DACA and the Dems

Sure, Democratic politicians are seldom "profiles in courage." And people are getting hurt everyday. But let's get real as we blunder toward phase-the-umpteenth of the struggle over whether this should be a nation that welcomes immigrants.

... it’s worth pointing out the obvious: Republicans are the people who have put the hundreds of thousands of DREAMers at risk.

It was mostly Republicans who killed comprehensive immigration reform in 2007; it was overwhelmingly Republicans who killed the DREAM Act in 2010; it was even more overwhelmingly Republicans who killed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. It was a Republican president who canceled DACA in 2017, and it is exclusively Republicans who are blocking a wise and humane legislative replacement for DACA in 2018.

The real reason Schumer and Senate Democrats are struggling to secure help for DREAMers is that there are only 49 of them in a 100-person body (and you need 60 to pass legislation), their colleagues in the House are even more disempowered than they are, and the executive branch is controlled by people who are fundamentally hostile to the cause.

... a Senate minority can’t force the party that controls the House and the White House and the majority in the Senate to enact legislation they don’t want to enact. I’m not entirely sure why, exactly, Republicans leaders are so eager to ruin DREAMers’ lives but they do seem to be pretty determined. And that’s the core issue, not any question of legislative tactics.

... The reason the DREAM Act failed in 2010 is that Republicans killed it. The reason comprehensive immigration reform failed in 2013 is that Republicans killed it. The reason DACA ended in 2017 is that Republicans killed it. And the reason that the bipartisan Durbin-Graham plan to help DREAMers hasn’t been enacted in 2018 is that Republicans are blocking it.

Not that it isn't worth beating up on Dems to get them on the right side of this. California proves this: does anyone think Diane Feinstein would be holding out for a DACA fix if her constituents were not howling at her state offices? Of course not. But we did, and she is. Her incentives are somewhat unique (June primary) but you use what you have.

So let's keep beating on elected Dems -- but let's remember the real problem is elected Republicans from Trump on down and make sure we defeat them in November and beyond.

Her worlds challenged us

Ursula K. Le Guin's death at age 88 was announced Tuesday. In the 1970s, her sci-fi/fantasy novels, particularly The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven, served as prompts that helped me wrestle with the big questions: what sort of world should we be striving to build and how should we live? She was visionary rather than didactic; she could seize, shake, and tickle a mind that was open to her creations. What worlds these were!

Until a recent tip from my friend Ronni, I had no idea that Le Guin had been blogging. In December I was thrilled to pick up a new little book made up of some of her blog posts from the last half decade, No Time to Spare. She wasn't sure about this new medium.

I never wanted to blog before. I’ve never liked the word blog—I suppose it is meant to stand for bio-log or something like that, but it sounds like a sodden tree trunk in a bog, or maybe an obstruction in the nasal passage (Oh, she talks that way because she has such terrible blogs in her nose).

These are blog posts, not all are brilliant or consequential, though often thought provoking and disturbing. There is the requisite blogy measure of description of her relationship to Pard, the cat, and other animals. And there is wisdom.

Le Guin the social observer and social critic is sharply present here. The U.S. forever wars of the 21st century don't impress her. She remembers World War II as a unifying, though unwelcome, national project. She remembers draftees, however willing or unwilling, marching off to war in their spiffy uniforms. Not so today:

... I wonder very much about the effect of the camo-pajama uniform on most civilians. I find it not only degrading but disturbing that we dress up our soldiers in clothes suitable to jail or the loony bin, setting them apart not by looking good, looking sharp, but by looking like clowns from a broken-down circus.

... Perhaps the fatigue uniform reflects an attitude they aren’t conscious of and would never admit, a change less in the nature of war than in our national attitude to it, which is neither glamorizing nor realistic but simply uncaring. We pay very little attention to our wars or to the people fighting them.

... Right or wrong, since the 1950s and particularly since the 1970s, we began putting whichever war was on at the moment out of sight and out of mind, and with it the men and women fighting it.

Le Guin was a proud advocate for women's liberation, but she was never quite sure about the positioning and tactics of some of her sisters in the first blush of Second Wave feminism. Early in this last decade, she wrote some reflections on anger that seem all the more generally relevant in our current choleric moment.

Anger is a useful, perhaps indispensable tool in motivating resistance to injustice. But I think it is a weapon—a tool useful only in combat and self-defense. ... Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice.

... Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous. Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.

She knew a thing or two. The things she knew were never simple. We are the better because she shared them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We can't replace 'em all with robots

That good chronicler of all things military, Thomas Ricks, has moved his online digs to The Long March. Antiwar activist that I am, I've found him a necessary read for years.

In recognition that Erudite Partner returns to the academic salt mines tomorrow after a long break, here's Rick's current commentary on military education:

I fear that many officer students at the war colleges and the staff colleges can’t write, don’t read, and resent attempts to make them think.

Based on what E.P. and other college teachers of my acquaintance report about too many of their students, I think I know what the military is up against. Their students are products of U.S. high schools and even colleges that don't teach writing or thinking. The complaint is well-nigh universal.

In some ways, the problem is not new. Only half of drafted GIs in the U.S. Army in World War II had high school diplomas; by the 1960s Vietnam war, 60 percent had completed 12 years of education. Currently the War (Defense) Department expects all recruits to have high school diplomas, but makes many exceptions. Educational expectations for soldiers keep rising, just as they do in civilian life. An in-house critique of military education, suggests that there ought to be as many contemporary enlisted soldiers with college degrees as in the general population.

According to government data, only six percent of our enlisted force has completed a bachelor’s degree. By fiscal year 2025 the Army should strive to have a rate much closer to the national average of thirty four percent.

E.P. not infrequently has taught students who were following up on their service by getting a degree. Some were mature, thoughtful contributors to an ethics class. Others seemed to have lost their moorings in ways that might be beyond the resources of an undergraduate program to heal. That is, these ex-soldiers were people.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Republicans field torture apologist for Congress

The contest on March 13 to fill Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional seat hasn't (yet) drawn the sort of focus from Democrats that we put on the Virginia governor's race or Doug Jones' successful Alabama senate campaign. The vacancy came about because the former Republican representative made a mighty noise campaigning against abortion, and then was caught urging abortion on his girl friend. Oops. But Trump carried the district by 19 points and Republicans have held the seat for decades. This is not promising turf.

Democrats have a candidate who seems a plausible fit for this 95 percent white, still significantly unionized, suburban and rural district. Conor Lamb is a white 33 year old Marine veteran and former assistant U.S. attorney. He avoids hot button social issues in favor of economic appeals.

The Republican candidate, state legislator Rick Saccone, is something of a bomb thrower. He has quipped

"I was Trump before Trump was Trump..."

'Nuff said for many of us. Trump paid Saccone a campaign visit.

But there's more. Lee Fang from the Intercept has uncovered Saccone's background as a consultant at the U.S. Army's prison at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq invasion. He sees nothing wrong with a little light torture; when advised that brutal treatment is unlawful, like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney he plays word games about what the U.S. does to captives.

In his book, “The Unseen War in Iraq” and in a series of newspaper columns, Saccone argued for the use of such tactics, claiming that so-called enhanced interrogation methods are both legal and effective means for extracting intelligence. International human rights attorneys reject the former claim, and an extensive investigation by the Senate intelligence committee rejects the latter.

Since “the enemy is not an Army, wears no uniform,” Saccone wrote in his book, the U.N. Convention Against Torture does not apply. Saccone dismisses federal law defining interrogation methods that inflict “severe mental pain and suffering” as torture because “the threshold of pain varies among individuals.” Any methods that do not inflict “long lasting pain that leaves permanent physical damage,” Saccone argues, should be considered.

... Saccone draws on his own personal experience to argue broadly for expanded use of techniques criticized as torture. The examples from his time in Iraq include telling a suspect that, unless he confesses, he will be turned over to a militia that will execute him. In another, Saccone writes about a hardened suspect that expressed fear when he saw a large German police dog, so Saccone made the suspect believe he would release the dog to attack the suspect unless he provided information. And in another, Saccone discusses using live wires to threaten a detainee with electrocution.

Fang interviewed Erudite Partner for the article. She is, after all, an academic expert in these matters. She corrects Saccone on both the law and the facts on U.S. torture. Read it all here.

Saccone's claim to fame in Pennsylvania has been to oppose separation of church from state, attempting to have Pennsylvania declare a "Year of the Bible." Last year he proclaimed:

“[God] wants godly men and women in all aspects of life. He wants people who will rule with the fear of God in them to rule over us.”

What a strange, fear-based, God these torture types worship!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Women's March, San Francisco

This was a demanding bunch. The Chronicle called the crowd "enormous," whatever that means. I've seen events that felt like this one labelled as anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 people.

Certainly at times, the crush was tight.

As at last year's march, people made their own signs. These were personal statements.

Some were confident.

These young people seemed to feel this was exactly where they wanted to be.

True. But he is an idiot.

This new batch of activists mean to get their way.
I didn't last long in my flu-depleted condition. But it sure was nice to see all this energy, creativity, and determination.

Women's March 2018

Here in San Francisco, folks will head down to Civic Center for the Women's March 2.0. (Likewise in Oakland across the Bay and in every municipality around here.)

Well and good; we need to get together. But probably the most important offshoot of the mass outpouring begun last January will take place in Las Vegas where Power to the Polls, a nationwide campaign of mobilization and voter registration arising from the Women's March, begins its swing through contested states.

“Women's March has created a powerful movement that has ignited thousands of activists and new leaders,” said Tamika D. Mallory, co-president of Women’s March. “ In 2018, we must turn our work into action ahead of the midterms. This new initiative will address voter registration and voter suppression head on. We marched for justice in DC, we created our plan in Detroit and now we’re bringing the power of the polls to Nevada.”

Nevada was rocked by the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, recent sexual assault allegations against elected officials, and has become a battleground state that will shape the Senate in 2018. The kick-off event in Las Vegas will bring together talent, musicians, grassroots activists, and elected officials to a key swing state for a large-scale gathering to celebrate the work of the past year and launch a collective 2018 Women’s March agenda.

Watch out: the powerful ladies are coming!
I don't know this morning whether my fluish body is up to attending. Maybe for a little while ...


Great -- the Cheato's combination of white nationalism with political incoherence shuts down the government. He's the president as he likes to remind visitors, so this failure is his turd.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Now US is promoting trade in humans

According to Al Jazeera, the government of El Salvador is investigating whether it can ship off people deported from the United States by the Trump regime to Qatar to serve as "temporary workers." After all, many (especially those whose protected status has been revoked) speak English, a useful lingua franca for Gulf-emirate "guest workers". Now there's a solution to what will be a genuine re-integration crisis in Central America if our white nationalists' wet dreams happen.

Friday cat blogging

Morty and I have spent most of the past week in this posture. I think he has found it more restful than I do. After a couple of hours of strange dreams, I wake up with the feeling that I've somehow fallen asleep in a stream bed. Eventually I realize I'm the source of the rivulets.

This flu too will pass.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Linguist thinks President Shithole has limit to verbal transgressions

Professor John McWhorter, whose audio introductory linguistics course I loved, has predicted that Trump has a limit to the bigotry he'll be willing to express:

Words are treated as profane on the basis of what a society is truly hung up about. And let’s face it — American society as a whole is vastly less worried about taking the Lord’s name in vain or mentioning copulation and evacuation in public than it once was. Rather, what truly concerns us, horrifies us, inspires a desire to shield people from the full force of the language, are words like the n-word, the f-word referring to homosexual men, and the c-word referring to, well, you know.

... Note, however, that speculations that one of these days he might drop the n-word in a similar situation are almost surely fantasy; even with Trump I feel confident writing that for posterity. Even as obnoxious a personage as him would not dare to use that word, or the other two I alluded to, for public consumption. That those words exert a check upon someone as uncontrollable as Trump is a demonstration that they are today’s true profanity.

... However much he indulges in racist code, if Donald Trump were caught on a hot mic crowing that “The niggers just need to shape up” or “If only she’d stop being such a cunt,” it would likely be one of the very few things that actually would spark a sincere effort to eject him from office — so utterly unthinkable in public usage are they. That is, they are profane in the true sense.

McWhorter chronicles the evolution of what this society has considered unspeakable over the last hundred years. We just are no longer much bothered by causal irreligion, shit, or fucking.

He goes on to explain what we are nowadays bothered about:

...hatred toward vulnerable minorities that is truly considered obscene, and ... we euphemize words through which some people express such loathing. We — a few stodgy editors and public-news producers aside —can congratulate ourselves that we recognize that this is the new profanity, not words referring to things like poop and sexual congress.

What Trump probably didn't know until he crossed a line with his "shithole countries" comment is that a substantial and growing fraction of us also extend our sense of the profane to cover denigration of whole countries full of black and brown people. These too are part of those "vulnerable minorities". Onward cosmopolitans; the human future is global, whether we like it or not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Even the doctor is at risk: #domesticviolence #women

Erudite Partner dragged me and my influenza to Kaiser yesterday. I sure didn't expect to see this on a huge banner next to the check in desk.
In smaller type, she explained:

After six years of dating and living together, I married my husband. Almost immediately, our situation changed dramatically. He went from being very charming and attentive to controlling, manipulative, jealous, and domineering. Although what happened between us never escalated into physical violence, in retrospect it was clearly an abusive relationship. He used verbal abuse, isolation from my family and friends, and poorly concealed threats to control my behavior. He began destroying my possessions and throwing away things of value to me. When I would try to leave a non-productive argument, he would physically block my path.

Even though I am a physician and frequently counsel patients in similar circumstances. I did not recognize that I was experiencing domestic violence. The turning point for me was when his pregnant mistress came to my house to "discuss things." Within two days I had seen an attorney and within eight months we were divorced. At that point, we had been married 15 years and had two children.

Because my husband, his mistress and I all work at Kaiser Permanente, the affair quickly became public knowledge. My entire department and many other staff members knew about my situation. I had the support of all my co-workers who had any knowledge of the situation. I kept working the whole time and because of my emotional upset, I deliberately become more vigilant in the work place. I knew my clinical effectiveness could be affected, so I asked my chief and my medical assistant to keep an eye on me, which was a tremendous help.

It's been four years since the divorce. I recently started dating again and currently have a very supportive partner.

51 year old
Italian, Northern European female
Kaiser Permanente Physician

As for the flu, I've still got it, still shivering and baking, but probably am not on the way to pneumonia. Bakson. This is getting tiresome.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Under assault ...

... a little frayed, but still the banner of hope is still there.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is where this flu leads

After last night, I may need this place.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Is my discomfort with Feinstein's re-election merely ageism?

My Senator, Diane Feinstein, is testing my principles.

I've never much liked her, ever since she was a prissily conventional mayor of my then-wildly unconventional city. I don't think I've ever voted for her. She moved on to Washington in 1992 (one of those evanescent "years of the woman") and has pursued a solid but conventional course as a pragmatic Democrat. Unlike her California Senate colleague Barbara Boxer, she voted for the Iraq war, later saying she'd been "misled" by the GW Bush administration. By the time of that vote she'd been in Washington ten years and ought to have known a thing or two.

And she is currently the oldest sitting Senator in a body which is "the oldest Senate ever." Born in 1933, she was fully an adult before the tumultuous 1960s. For goodness sakes, her daughter took retirement, though not quite joining the Medicare tribe, in 2012! Isn't it time for someone younger to represent California's millennial-dominated, racially diverse electorate? I know I want a Democratic presidential candidate who'll be under 60 in 2020; it's younger folks' turn. I wish Feinstein had decided to retire instead of running again for a term that would end when she is 91. 91!

But she's running -- and I have to ask myself whether my discomfort at the prospect of her re-election is merely ageism.

In the last 10 years, she's used her perch to do work that matters to me, breaking with the "intelligence community" (beware of bullshit whenever anyone uses that phrase without scare quotes) to investigate the Bush regime's torture policies -- and put into public view some tiny portion of the findings. It was Obama, not Ms. Oh-so-uptight Senator Feinstein, who kept the torture report under wraps.

Is my discomfort with Senator Feinstein's re-election merely ageism?

Lately she's done this sort of work again, releasing testimony about Fusion GPS' role in the investigation of Trump's Russia connections that the Republicans were trying to hide.

Is my discomfort with Senator Feinstein's re-election merely ageism?

And she most recently put herself out as the Senator who asked Trump to agree to a "Clean DREAM Act" thereby confusing him so much that he verbally contradicted his own cruel policy on DREAMERS and other immigrants.

Is my discomfort with Senator Feinstein's re-election merely ageism?

Yes, I know, on some level this current Feinstein-in-polite-resistance to Trump/GOPer horrors is the very good product of the tireless work of Indivisible, Move-On, Bay Resistance, and thousands of other activists letting her know her constituents want more and better from her. But hey, that's how democracy is supposed to work and we're getting something for our efforts.

Is my discomfort with Senator Feinstein's re-election merely ageism?

I can't answer my own question right now. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that I might well vote for an alternative in the June primary just because Feinstein seems "too old." That's not good enough, a violation of my principles. Kevin de Leon, her challenger, has to make the sale with me. He seems to have been a good and useful state senator (I've heard him speak for immigrant rights), but he has to make the case that he'd be a better choice. Feinstein is doing the right stuff for re-election -- let democracy flourish!

Friday cat blogging

What's going on out there?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Republicans got to have someone to hate

Thomas Edsall offers this chart as support for the contention of Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University that the move among white working class males (non-college educated) to Trump in 2016 correlates with areas where Chinese competition and industrial robots have trashed their jobs.

Some part of the swing almost certainly can be accounted for that way. But what jumps out to me is that shifts among white working class males to the Republicans also, and even particularly, correlate with overt expressions of white racism by Republican presidential candidates. Come on, folks -- Reagan always worked for the white supremacist vote, launching his first campaign at the Neshoba Country Fair in Mississippi with a "states' rights" speech. In 1984, his theme was "Morning in America," an only slightly less blatant racist dogwhistle than Trump's "Make America Great Again."

George W. Bush might seem an exception -- except that he too ran hard against a marginalized outgroup: in Bush's case that group was LGBT people. (That backfired quite satisfactorily didn't it? White working class males sometimes have queer children and they like marriage ...) As the working class becomes more brown, the present GOP strategy will also backfire, if we can preserve enough democracy to make people's preferences felt.

Sick day

Bakson. Apologies to A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. Somehow, Disney is not quite up to scruff here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Resist for #NetNeutrality

Via The Root comes word that Democrats have collected enough signatures on a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to force a vote on whether Senators want to preserve net neutrality. (The CRA is the law Republicans have been using to undo regulations issued in the last year of the Obama administration.) This doesn't mean that they are going to have the votes to overturn the Federal Communications Commission order that telecom companies must be allowed to discriminate in pricing for internet service. But it should ensure that every Senator will have to go on record one way or another. That provides an opening for a popular campaign to restore net neutrality which might well change some minds; fully three quarters of us tell pollsters we don't want the FCC to break the internet. We want government regulation to ensure fairness for all.

Confused? Pollsters found that too. Here's an exceptionally clear video explanation of the concepts.
Monique Judge vents her disgust with Trump's FCC chairman Ajit Pai who has led the charge for the corporations:

Now we all sit back and wait to see which company will be the first to rob its customers blind with outrageous pricing tiers.

Now we wait to see which company will introduce internet packages based on which types of services you want to use while accessing the internet.

Now we wait to see just how much Ajit Pai sold out the American people for.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The outrages keep coming

Next to ordering the breakup of hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran families, this may not seem the worst of the Trump/Republican regime's atrocities this week, but I want to note it here.

On Thursday there is supposed to be a Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Howard C. Nielson Jr. to a lifetime appointment as a judge on the United States District Court for the District of Utah.

Who is Howard C. Nielson Jr.?
  • Californians may remember him as the lawyer who picked up the defense of Prop. 8., the initiative that outlawed LGBT marriage, after the elected state government declined to represent a measure they thought unconstitutionally discriminatory. Now any of us who look to support the rule of law understand that legal representation ought to be available to any party in a courtroom. But Nielson made it part of his argument that Judge Vaughn Walker, an experienced and acerbic federal judge, who was hearing the case should have been barred because he is gay. His argument: Walker might sometime benefit from the right to get married. Much of the legal world, including the judge, found this mixing of personal identity with the law both offensive and silly. But it certainly fits with Trump's attitude to judges, as when he attacked a Chicago judge for his his Mexican ancestry.
  • Nielson also comes from the clutch of Office Legal Council lawyers in the George W. Bush administration who cooked up legally spurious and morally offensive memos of allowing torture in the War on Terror. Jay S. Bybee, the lead torture lawyer, was subsequently put on the bench by GWB; the judiciary doesn't need another of these guys.
The Alliance for Justice is organizing opposition to terrible judicial nominees like Nielson.

I find I cannot resist reproducing this ...

as a long time fan of the Pirates of Penzance.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Post-truth might be another artifact of a particular moment

Here's a fascinating longread for anyone who had begun to feel that political persuasion was hopeless. Some of those social science studies that have been telling us that offering to counter inaccuracies only created an anti-truth backlash may themselves be a product of the journalistic impulse to promote flashy results based on flimsy data and weak statistical tests.

Yes, people do engage in motivated reasoning. Yes, it’s true that we prefer to cling to our beliefs. Yes, we do give extra credence to the facts we’ve heard repeated. But each of these ideas has also spawned a more extreme (and more disturbing) corollary—that facts can force the human mind to switch into reverse, that facts can drive us even further from the truth. It’s those latter theories, of boomerangs and backfires, that have grown in prominence in recent years, and it’s those latter theories that have lately had to be revised.

... Why, then, has the end-of-facts idea gained so much purchase in both academia and the public mind? It could be an example of what the World War II–era misinformation experts referred to as a “bogie” rumor—a false belief that gives expression to our deepest fears and offers some catharsis. It’s the kind of story that we tell one another even as we hope it isn’t true. Back then, there were bogie rumors that the Japanese had sunk America’s entire fleet of ships or that thousands of our soldiers’ bodies had washed ashore in France. Now, perhaps, we blurt out the bogie rumor that a rumor can’t be scotched—that debunking only makes things worse.

Or it could be that our declarations of a post-truth age are more akin to another form of rumor catalogued during the 1940s: the “pipe dream” tale. These are the stories—the Japanese are out of oil; Adolf Hitler is about to be deposed—we tell to make ourselves feel better. Today’s proclamations about the end of facts could reflect some wishful thinking, too. They let us off the hook for failing to arrive at common ground and say it’s not our fault when people think there really is a war on Christmas or a plague of voter fraud. In this twisted pipe-dream vision of democracy, we needn’t bother with the hard and heavy work of changing people’s minds, since disagreement is a product of our very nature or an unpleasant but irresolvable feature of our age.

Daniel Engber, Slate

As is often the case for me, putting what we are urged to believe in an historical context clarifies. We're living in times that encourage us to doubt the existence of hard realities -- at least until we fall on our faces and bust our noses. This corrective essay is well worth the time to read.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Six North Korean lives

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is a haunting narrative of six North Korean lives -- accounts of daily struggles, delights, loves and pain -- during the late 1980's through the early '00s. Barbara Demick, a Los Angeles Times journalist reporting from Seoul, South Korea, spent seven years interviewing her subjects and confirming as many details as possibly about a place from which she, like all outsiders, was barred. She follows a young couple who could never quite connect within their homeland; an older woman who was a true believer in the Kim family Confucian/Communist project and ends up a successful small entrepreneur; a doctor who saw one too many of her pediatric patients starve to death; and an orphan whose survival skills would probably cause him to be classified as a delinquent in any society. Since her subjects lived to tell their tales in South Korea, the reader knows how each story comes out. Yet Demick narrates the perilous and unexpected accidents of these lives so dramatically that I felt as if I was reading a novel. I cared what happened to these people.

Along the way, this book contains a lot of information and reflection about North Korea that is probably not common knowledge as we, the US people, make an unwilling audience for a couple of cartoon characters, ours and theirs, trading insults.

The division of the Korean peninsula is completely unnatural, an artifact of the messy end of World War II and the Cold War. For seventy years before 1945, this ancient kingdom was an unhappy colony of Japan. Because U.S. mapmakers feared Russian ambitions at the end of the Pacific war, they drew a line across the country, each big power occupying one half of Korea. The Korean war of 1950-1953 didn't lead a redrawing of that line (or, to this day, a peace treaty) but did leave two states, the capitalist South, long a corrupt dictatorship and then a democracy, and the Communist North, led by Kim Il-sung. Older Koreans remember when the North was the more prosperous society, materially bolstered by Soviet and Chinese governments. Kim was the author of his own brand of nationalist communism in a country his regime successfully walled off from the outside. Demick explains:

To a certain extent, all dictatorships are alike. ... all these regimes had the same trappings: the statues looming over every town square, the portraits hung in every office, the wristwatches with the dictator's face on the dial. But Kim Il-sung took the cult of personality to a new level. What distinguished him in the rogues gallery of twentieth-century dictators was his ability to harness the power of faith. Kim Il-sung understood the power of religion. His maternal uncle was a Protestant minister back in the pre-Communist days when Pyongyang had such a vibrant Christian community that it was called the "Jerusalem of the East." Once in power, Kim Il-sung closed the churches, banned the Bible, deported believers to the hinterlands, and appropriated Christian imagery and dogma for the purpose of self promotion.

The resulting nationalist, collective, Confucian/Communist mix, called juche, became the faith of the North. Kim's death in 1994 was a defining trauma for Demick's six protagonists. How to live on without the leader was not an abstract question for North Koreans.

The question was exacerbated by the consequences for North Koreans of the collapse of Soviet Communism and the emergence of Chinese capitalism. The North had never fed itself, always dependent on importing about 40 percent of its food. For its people, "the crowning achievement of the North Korean system was subsidized food." People labored not so much for money as for rations and housing provided to workers by the state. When comradely subsidies ended, North Koreans, especially in disfavored areas, literally starved. The life stories in Demick's book are grueling, tales of foraging for grass and bark, of watching helplessly as loved ones simply wasted away, collapsed and died. Demick's summation is brutal:

In a famine, people don't necessarily starve to death. Often some other ailment gets them first. Chronic malnutrition impairs the body's ability to battle infection and the hungry become increasingly vulnerable to tuberculosis and typhoid. ... normally curable illnesses suddenly become fatal. Wild fluctuations of body chemistry can trigger strokes and heart attacks. People die from eating substitute foods that their bodies can't digest. ...

The killer has a natural progression. It goes first to the most vulnerable -- children under five. They come down with a cold and it turns into pneumonia; diarrhea turns into dysentery. Before the parents even think about getting help, the child is dead. Next the killer turns to the aged, starting with those over seventy, then working its way down the decades to people in their sixties and fifties. These people might have died anyway, but so soon? Then starvation makes its way through people in the prime of their lives. Men, because they have less body fat, usually perish before women. The strong and athletic are especially vulnerable become their metabolisms burn more calories.

Yet another gratuitous cruelty: the killer targets the most innocent, the people who would never steal food, lie, cheat, break the law or betray a friend. ... As Mrs. Song would observe a decade later, when she thought back on all the people she knew who died during those years in Chongjin, it was "the simple and kindhearted people who did what they were told -- they were the first to die."

The famine abated at the end of the 1990s; although some international aid came in, it seems not to have reached the most desperate people.

... the worst of the famine was over, not necessarily because anything had improved but, as Mrs. Song later surmised, because there were fewer mouths to feed. "Everybody who was going to die was already dead."

Some estimates make the toll three million out of a population of 22 million North Koreans; all numbers about things North Korean are disputed and the Kim government isn't telling.

Demick's book relates what her protagonists did to survive the famine, how even such a closed system as North Korea was altered by such a trauma, and the various routes they followed when they left their country. They are all exceptional in having managed to get to South Korea. Most people who leave the North end up on the margins of Chinese society. These people are the almost unimaginably lucky ones. South Korea, for its own political purposes, considers them citizens and makes a significant effort to integrate them into its thriving capitalist society. This is not easy.

The sad truth is that North Korean defectors are often difficult people. Many were pushed into leaving not only because they were starving but because they couldn't fit in at home. And often their problems trailed after them, even after they crossed the border. ...

Though this book is full of political observations, ultimately it is about human individuals. Their stories will fill my bad dreams for a long time.
The quote immediately above exemplifies one of my few quarrels with this book: Demick uses the locution "defector" throughout. I think of that word as signifying some political intent. Yet, though her subjects are certainly disaffected, their departure from North Korea does not really come across as political. I'd call them "escapees" from a society they came to feel was intolerable and unsurvivable.

This was published in 2010 and ought to be in many public libraries. Get ahold of it if you want to know a little more about people our president is threatening with incineration. H/t to Ezra Klein for recommending it.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Two plagues: the invisible war zones of HIV/AIDS and opioids

Just about every retrospective on 2017 includes something like this:

Last year, more than 63,600 people died of drug overdoses, up from more than 52,400 in 2015. About two-thirds of overdose deaths — more than 42,200 — were linked to opioids. ... In comparison, ... more than 43,000 died due to HIV/AIDS during that epidemic's peak in 1995...

As a longtime gay San Franciscan, I live with memories of what it was like to live through the HIV plague years -- deaths were all around. When you encountered an acquaintance who looked a little wan, you wondered if he would be the next to go. You'd realize that the house down the block where the neighbors always seemed to be changing was an AIDS residence. Phone poles were covered with flyers for AIDS charity fundraising events. Gay newspapers carried pages of obituaries.

I thought I'd assemble some short notes on the many similarities and the many differences between these two murderous plagues, just to clarify my own thinking.

If the current epidemic is intense where you live, I'm sure that you feel as if you are living in a war zone that is invisible to most of your fellow citizens. The gay film historian Vito Russo captured the feeling in 1988:

Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you've lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn't happening to them. ... No one else seems to be noticing.

Occasionally mainstream media will send a reporter to look into your plight. Each epidemic had archetypal victims whose suffering served as the image of the malady: fags and Haitians with HIV; "left-behind" rural whites today. In each epidemic, there were others, usually poor and dark, caught up in the plague, but a textured human panorama was largely beyond the perceptual capacity of sensational, yet conventional, media. Most of these reporters mean well ... but I would not be surprised if their subjects end up feeling unseen.

In both epidemics, one of the most prominent people who was/is not noticing was/is the president of the United States. Ronald Reagan wouldn't even say "AIDS" for six years as the disease spread, until his buddy, the actor Rock Hudson, succumbed. Donald Trump mentions his epidemic and even appointed a commission to suggest action -- but has done nothing except try to take Obamacare away from people who need treatment for addiction.

And in both epidemics, society at large gawked at the dying and shielded themselves from the horror by believing that the sick people were at fault for their pain. AIDS is a disease, not a sin (we more or less know that now); opioid addiction is a disease (when will we figure that out?)

When young gay men in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco started dying around 1979, nobody knew what was killing them. Medical researchers rather quickly realized that finding a cause (it turned out to be a retrovirus transmitted through sex and blood products) and inventing a vaccine (they didn't) might win the scientist who could claim success a Nobel prize (it hasn't). An ugly competition ensued between Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Institute of Health and Professor Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in France over who had identified HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) first.

It was not until the mid-1990s, that drug treatments were invented, making AIDs a longterm, chronic disease among affluent populations, though poor and marginalized (colored) people still die disproportionately if infected.

Nobody is wondering today what is making people addicted to opioids (pain pills, heroin, and fentanyl) and frequently to overdose. The trajectory of morphine dependency has been known for over a century. And there's not much fame or honor in treating addiction; doctors and others working in the field are still paid less than other health workers.

Because we do understand addiction, we also know a lot about how to treat it. Addiction changes human physiology; drug dependence is a physical condition with secondary mental, social, and emotional symptoms, not a sin. Like high-blood pressure or depression, there are longterm drug treatments that work. But the stigma of addiction (and the cost of treating "unworthy" patients) keeps these treatments unavailable to most addicts.

People with AIDS and their loved ones in the '80s and '90s sometimes came to their suffering with enough relative class, race and economic privilege so that they could fight for their lives, and by extension the lives of the less privileged. AIDS activism demanded research and treatments from sluggish governments and medical institutions. In particular, people with AIDS and their friends became very good at highlighting "innocent" victims -- hemophiliacs, children born with the virus, health workers exposed to infected blood -- whose very existence showed that this was a disease, not some mysterious curse on bad actors.

It's not yet clear what opioid addiction activism would look like. Being strung out is not conducive to protest, though neither is having a collapsing immune system. It's probably the loved ones, the families burying sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, who may emerge as the activists. But they'll have to get over the shame associated with addiction; many families just don't dare to talk about what hit them. Neither did those ornery fags in the '80s either, until speaking out came to seem a matter of life or death.

Sam Quinones' Dreamland gives hints of how opioid activism might emerge. One of the "gateways" to addiction in the heartland (everywhere?) is high school football; young men strive to overcome almost inevitable injuries and easily and "honorably" end up habituated to pills. A few parents have taken the lead in sounding the alarm after a child died of an overdose. And where did those pills and other drugs come from? Albany County (New York State) is suing big pharmaceutical companies for deceptive marketing of their pain killers. This kind of suit has not yet fared well, but this is the sort of effort for which activism can sometimes create a positive environment.

People caught up in the opioid epidemic need to find their version of Vito Russo's proud harangue:

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes -- when that day has come and gone, there'll be people alive on this earth -- gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

In addition to Dreamland, I would strongly encourage anyone wishing to understand the opioid epidemic to follow the journalism of German Lopez at Vox. Lopez has spent the last year learning and growing into this topic. This post would have come out long ago if I had't stopped to read it all -- and that was well worth my time.
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